For some environmentalists, 'I can't breathe' is about more than police brutality
Updated 9:04 AM ET, Sat June 27, 2020
Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.
(CNN)"I can't breathe."
Those three words were uttered by Eric Garner in 2014 and again by George Floyd in 2020, when both men died while in police custody.
The words have become a rallying cry for protesters. But for some, "I can't breathe" is about more than police violence.
"It's not just about being choked out by police brutality — it's about being choked out because of air pollution," said Heather McTeer Toney, a former regional administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Barack Obama and is now a national field director at Moms Clean Air Force, an advocacy group.
Communities of color in the US are more likely to breathe air pollution, despite contributing less to fouling the air. They are more likely to be exposed to contaminated water, and to live near hazardous waste sites. And as the climate crisis worsens, many groups — including poor communities and communities of color — are the most vulnerable to the dangers of a warming planet.
In short, experts say Black people in the US are dying as a result of environmental racism.
Though environmental injustice isn't new, advocates say it hasn't always captured the same public outrage as other forms of systemic racism.
This is how communities of color in the US are feeling the effects of environmental injustice.
The microscopic dust spewed into the air from power plants, tail pipes and wildfires is an invisible killer.
In the US, more than 30,000 deaths in a single year may have been caused by air pollution, according to a 2019 study — and air quality has gotten worse in recent years, despite recent improvements during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Communities of color are most impacted by this airborne pollution.
Though Black and Hispanic Americans generate less air pollution, they are more likely to be exposed to its harmful effects, according to a 2019 study.